Future Friday: A world of those that “can” versus those that “can’t”

by Michael Haberman on October 28, 2016 · 0 comments


Is this what the telecommuting pizza worker will look like?

Is this what the telecommuting pizza worker will look like?

Are we creating a work world of those that “can” versus those that “can’t” was the question I had after reading an article in The Guardian. The article was about the future of work and the prognostications about how it is going to change. Let’s face it the world of work is changing already and will continue to change, but I am not sure it is going to be as fast as some people think and in the process is going to divide working society.

By 2020?

The article references a report by Faith Popcorn, a US futurist and founder of marketing consulting firm BrainReserve. In a February 2015 presentation Popcorn said that currently 32% of workers are freelancers and that by 2020 that number may be 50%. She also said that by the year 2025 1 in 3 jobs, 140 million in total, will be taken over by robots. The unnamed author of the Guardian article goes on to talk about flexible work arrangements, mobile offices, distributed businesses and the increased number of workers working from wherever they want to work. Sounds great, if you are one of the ones that can do it.

Popcorn, in her presentation says that work as we know it is dying. Careers and offices are over. Robots will take most of the jobs and the government will have to intervene to incentivize companies to keep people on the payroll. She does say, however, that if you are a highly skilled, elite worker companies will be hunting for you and will be willing to compensate you lavishly and provide extreme flexibility. She concludes by saying “the gap between the haves and the have-nots has never been wider.”

Can or Cannot

I doubt he has any cooks or wait staff that telecommute.

The movement toward Popcorn’s and the Guardian’s vision right now consists of increasing mobility and flexibility. That is the first step that many companies are taking to change the nature of work and to provide the requisite flexibility needed by younger workers. There is a lot of work that workers can do from home or Starbucks, but then there is a lot that cannot. The Starbucks barista for example cannot telecommute. Now we could replace all those workers with robot baristas needing only a human technician to be available for malfunctions. My friend Steve Browne works for a pizza chain in Ohio. I doubt he has any cooks or wait staff that telecommute.

Today most manufactured goods cannot be made offsite, though in the future that may be possible too, or be done in totally automated factories, again only needing highly skilled human technicians to make needed repairs. Your house cannot be cleaned by somebody calling in maid service, yet you may own a robot at some point to clean your house. Perhaps we will someday have self-cleaning houses, my wife and I would love that. But that is not going to be in place by 2020.

In the meantime

a group of people doomed to the scrap heap of technology?

As we wait for these new worlds of work and living to arrive we push on toward increased flexibility in the workplace. Just be conscious of the potential class difference you may be creating in doing so. As Popcorn called them the “haves or have-nots” and as I call them the “cans or cannots”. I am not saying we should not be moving in that direction, but since many of you will not have the level of automation to do much with the have-not jobs by 2020 you want to be conscious of the division of groups you are creating. In this age of employee engagement we are working with groups who cannot be engaged by that level of flexibility. What will you do as an alternative?

Or will you just bide your time and speed up robotization in order to not have to worry about flexibility and engagement in a group of people doomed to the scrap heap of technology?

Photo credit: MSWord clipart


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